A while ago, I wrote a blog post about cooking in the wild. Whilst doing the research, I stumbled upon something that I had only seen in an outdoor store some years ago. I was intrigued: a gadget that could provide warmth, electricity and cook food on. But also provide the cosiness of a camp fire, without the disadvantage of leaving marks on the ground.
So I bought one, and used it today for the first time for a test run. Next week, I go hiking in the Alps and of course it’s part of the preparation that you know how your gear works! In this blog post I will share the first results: ease of use, heat generation, power generation, fire quality & smoke, stability and fuel consumption. But first, I’ll explain how it works.
BioLite Camp Stove: how does it work?
As stated, this stove uses solid fuel (eg. wood or wooden pellets) in its combustion chamber. This is the open pit in the middle of above picture. There are openings in the combustion chamber, which are used to force air through it by a fan, which is placed in the orange/yellow piece.
This allows for a rapid build-up of heat, as there is a lot of oxygen available. This principle is well-known by anybody ever making a fire: blowing air over a fire increases the heat and reduces the smoke as the burning of the fuel becomes cleaner and hotter.
However, this stove has an additional feature: it generates electricity. This works with a so-called “TEG”: a thermo-electric generator. The working principle is the difference in temperature: the heat probe becomes (very) hot. This is connected with the heat sink, where the heat is dissipated. When the temperature difference becomes bigger, more electricity is generated.
It’s this electricity that powers the fan of the device, resulting in more oxygen and a hotter fire. The excess power is stored in the battery-pack.
Ease of Use
The stove came in a nice box, and actually has 2 protective bags (one for the stove, the other one for the powerbank).
I’ve collected small twigs, and some larger twigs to burn as a fuel. I weighed it first, and then weighed it again an hour later: the weight only decreased with 0.6% in the blistering sun. This wood is dry.
Time to add one of the pellets that were delivered with the Stove:
I’ve put some wood underneath, as it was the first time of use: I didn’t know whether it would leave burn marks on the grass or not. It shouldn’t – but you never know. But: it didn’t. The wood was obsolete. In any case: the twigs caught fire and after 10 seconds I pressed the button to let the fan blow.
At first, there is (considerable) smoke. This is unavoidable, as the heat needs to build up and not all gases and particles are burned in the not-so-hot-yet-fire. This lasted for about 10 seconds, and then the smoke was completely gone.
For ease of use: 9 points out of 10. Pressing the button on the electrical part is not hard, but it requires you to push back or hold the stove – which is impossible due to the heat. No problem to hold it with the feet – but the steel gets very, very hot and small burns are an occassional hazard. It require some “getting-used to”.
Heat & power generation
These actually go hand in hand: when the fire gets hotter, the power output increases. The fire is very strong, stronger than on an gas-stove I’ve ever worked with. It essentially is a camp-fire, without the drawbacks.
It takes about 2 minutes to set up, and then you’ve got a hot fire.
The power generation isn’t fully tested in this small test. The LED-indicator went from 50% to the next level which is about 300mah (my best guess). At this rate, it takes a few hours to completely charge the powerbank of 3200mah. This in turn is sufficient to charge 70% of my Nokia 5.4 phone.
I’ll update it after next weeks weekend in the mountains.
Fire quality & smoke generation
Bear in mind to not put too much wood on it in 1 go: it needs to heat up before it “gases” the wood. Adding too much in 1 go will result in smoke. The burn is clean: due to the large amounts of air added to the fire, you hardly have any flames at all and no soot.
One of the most important factors with a stove is that it needs to be stable. For the simple fact that it’s dangerous if a stove falls over. The fire can spread, or a pot of boiling water can fall into places where you don’t want it. Best case is that you’ve got a spoiled meal.
This stove is quite stable. The legs are extended quite far out, but adding something on top will make it still slightly wobbly. But, definitely workable.
Fuel consumption is important, as you need to find your own twigs to cook with. I’ve used it for 30 minutes and the wood consumption was about 220 grams. As I didn’t add any fuel in the last part, my best guess is that it requires about half a kilogram per hour. Of course this depends on the setting of the fan: more air flow requires more fuel, although it does generate more heat.
Consider that when camping above the treeline, fuel is scarce. Fuel should therefore be collected in the valleys – and carried uphill. However, with a petrol-stove you are required to bring the fuel up the mountain yourself too.
When camping in the woods: this is just great. All the fuel is directly next to you and the risk of forest fires is much smaller when you use a device like this.
So I’ve only used it once so far, in my backgarden. It’s been easy to set up and use, and the fire is strong and clean. The stove is quite stable and the lamp worked. It is quite heavy, but not heavier than my Coleman-multi-fuel burner in its original casing with fuel.
It will be tested “in the wild” next week – a long weekend trail in which we need the electricity to power up our devices (as we are testing the app). But also in which we potentially need some light and warmth.
The last weekend of June 2022, we took the Biolite Campstove out for a test, high up in the French Alps. It did everything as expected: burning without too much smoke, although it takes some exercise in feeding the fire with new wood. Too much in one go and the smoke comes back. Too little, and it goes out. But the practising goes quickly and we’ve used it multiple nights.
Absolutely no complaines whatsoever – it’s been great. Providing warmth when we needed it, and an absolute stable platform to cook the meals on. The only thing to consider is that using this device requires you to gather some wood on the way up, if you are camping above the treeline as we did.